We’re now well into the first season of the CW’s latest superhero show, Batwoman.
A bit of background: Batwoman, civilian name Kate Kane, made her first appearance in her current form in 52 in 2006. There was an earlier version, Kathy Kane, who was introduced as a love interest for Batman because no homo. No, seriously, she was introduced to try and stop people from shipping Btman and Robin. She was removed ten years later because she was a bit redundant, and then reintroduced in Crisis.
Ironically, the modern Batwoman is a lesbian (remember that no homo thing), a Jew (arguably, the writers accidentally made Bruce Wayne Jewish when they established that his maternal cousin was a Jew. They didn’t seem to notice, though), and operates quite independently of her cousin.
Her introduction to the CW was with the clear intent of replacing Arrow, which comes to an end after the Crisis crossover event. Because, welp, we apparently have to have Crisis to introduce Batwoman. In the CW, Bruce is missing presumed, and has been for years. Kate takes over his job as protector of Gotham. In doing so she has to face a very personal nemesis in Alice (in reality, and this is revealed in the pilot, her “dead” twin sister Beth). The show is thus loosely following the storyline of the comics from Detective Comics. In places not so loosely (there’s a couple of points where it goes panel for panel.
She’s a lesbian. Which, of course, is not pleasing the dudebros. The backlash after the first episode was quite, quite notable.
Packaged for Male Consumption
Batwoman is the first lesbian lead of a superhero series, but she is not the first lesbian character to hit the small screen. The CW’s own Supergirl gives us Kara’s sister, Alex Danvers, a hero in her own right and a lesbian.
Superheroes as a genre have always attracted a certain kind of fan. Superman and Batman are inherently masculine power fantasies, especially the latter. I’m not saying all male comic book fans are like this, but a lot are. And traditionally superheroines? They’ve been packaged for male consumption. Supergirl fights in a mini skirt. Starfire fights in, well, not much at all. Although clingy bodysuits exist for both sexes, only Power Girl gets a boob window. Black Window unzips her body suit far enough to make you question what’s holding the girls in at times (Hint, it’s the suit, I have one and it does work, but…)
So, I have to admit that when I queued up the Batwoman pilot on my DVR I was expecting more of the same.
Then Kate came on screen and I almost squeed. Because it wasn’t just that she was a lesbian.
I turned to my husband and, very quietly, “They let her be butch.”
They let her be butch.
Superheroines don’t get to be butch. Superheroines get to be “empowered by their sexuality.” Now, I’m one of those women who does feel empowered when wearing a catsuit. It probably says something about a complicated lifelong relationship with Emma Peel. Ahem. (Do I want to be her or be with her?).
Kate comes on the screen and she is utterly, unapologetically a butch woman. (The actor who plays Kate, the talented Ruby Rose, is nonbinary but uses she/her pronouns). And in being a butch woman, she is not presented to the male gaze. Much of the fight choreography (although sadly not all) shows her treated the same way as a man, with none of the “chick fight” camera work common in the other CW shows (they aren’t as bad as some, but it’s there).
Kate Kane is not a lesbian packaged for straight men so they can watch her kissing another girl.
Kate Kane is not for them. Heck, Ruby Rose has outright said she’s not for them.
She’s for butch women. She’s for lesbian and bisexual women. She’s for women who have an ambiguous relationship with the butch/femme paradigm, never quite dancing in one or the other. She’s a female power fantasy presented for, to be blunt, the woman loving woman gaze.
Kate Kane isn’t for the dudebros.
She’s for me. And I appreciate that more than I could have imagined. As a butch-leaning bisexual woman in a heterosexual relationship, I probably have a more complex interaction with her.
But they let her be butch.
And that means a lot to a lot of people. Except the dudebros, who are all mad about it. Because of course they are.
I, though, can’t wait to see what happens next.